Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Haunting in Connecticut" same old scares but not bad

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009) 
92 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C +

Though it's supposedly based on the supposedly true story of a supposedly haunted house in Connecticut, "The Haunting in Connecticut" feels as true as "The Amityville Horror." As far as anyone knows, these terrorized families fabricate ghost stories so they won't have to pay their mortgage. The reality of it all is that there was a house and people involved. 

The film opens and ends with Sara Campbell (Virginia Madsen) doing an on-camera interview about the horrible happenings with her family. Taking place in 1987, religious mom Sara devotedly drives at all hours to take her cancer-stricken teenage son Matt (Kyle Gallner) for treatments in Connecticut. For more chemo, she decides to temporarily move Matt, her younger son, two nieces, and sometimes husband into the most spacious and affordable house—which used to serve as a funeral home. Unfortunately for the Campbells, this house is haunted up the wazoo with more angry spooks than the Ghostbusters could handle. 

Immediately, Matt starts having hallucinations, which is said to be caused by his prescribed medication (but come on, we know the truth). He's plagued by nightmarish phantoms at night in his basement bedroom, which used to serve as the embalming room. Great choice of bedroom, kid. As the illness grows worse, as does the haunting, Matt contacts a preacher (Elias Koteas) who's convinced the house is possessed. Well, no shit Sherlock! 

Director Peter Cornwell, making his feature debut, throws every possible haunted house cliché at us, from creaky floorboards to ghosts appearing behind characters in the mirror accompanied by shrieking blasts of the music score, just in case we should miss it. Often bombarded by quick editing, the scary, sometimes bloody hallucinations and embalming activity still provide some chills, and there is effective melodrama involving Sara coping with her son's disease. As for the backstory on the house itself, it's more interesting than most, but Adam Simon and Tim Metcalfe spoon-feed us by spelling everything out rather than leaving anything to our imagination, with the help of Matt's live-in cousin, Wendy (the appealing Amanda Crew), doing a little library detective work. The only real hokey effects are when ectoplasms emerge from someone's mouth or when a knocked-out wall reveals a nest of “fake” mummies. For a PG-13 rating, some of the scary stuff is pretty intense and suggestively gory, snipped-off eyelids and carving into skin for instance. 

The cast gets the job done without a wink. Madsen is convincing as matriarch Sara, while Martin Donovan drops in and out at random as recovering alcoholic husband Peter. Gallner comes off the best as troubled Matt, and Elias Koteas understates his role as ailing Reverend Popescu. Logic nuts will nitpick on why the family just doesn't get out of the house sooner, and spend most of the movie finding steals from "Poltergeist" or "The Exorcist," but so what, it's just that kind of movie—a rote B movie without so much as subtlety or originality but loaded with efficiently standard, jack-in-the-box jump scares if that sort of thing gets you. 

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